What We’ve Got—Living Outside of Mainstream Parenting

There is a beautiful scene in a Roseanne episode, in which the Connor family is gathered at the school auditorium to witness son D.J.’s performance in the spelling bee. D.J.’s parents and siblings are cheering him on loudly, as if they were at a football game, and some of the other audience members are looking at them with disgust. Roseanne—D.J.’s mom—turns to them and, in a statement that reflects how the Connor family has been beaten down by Reaganomics and stressed beyond hope by their struggle to get by, says something like, “Hey, this is all we’ve got.” What she means is that her kids aren’t likely to see college, her husband isn’t going to get a big promotion, and she’s not going to find a challenging career. D.J. winning the spelling bee is the Connor family’s sole chance for glory.

In one sense, when I compare our family’s life as unschoolers to the lives of the more educationally traditional families around us, I feel a bit like the Connors in that scene. Case in point: this year Stephanie passed her written test to get her driver’s permit. I was sky high with classic Mommy pride—the kind other moms feel every time their child brings home an “A” paper. But this was the first time Stephanie had ever taken a written test. It was her first “A” paper. Now, I’m not trying to say that parents should base their pride on subjective grades, but it is a part of the American family culture—as witnessed in every family sitcom ever made—to beam when your kid “does good,” and, as unschoolers, our beams often come from much less tangible achievements than a grade on a paper.

Second case in point: Stephanie passed her road test yesterday. Again, I got to be June Cleaver and Carol Brady and Clair Huxtable all rolled into one for an evening. My baby did the equivalent of getting an “A.” I’m not ashamed to say it felt good. Do I want a bumper sticker that says, “My child is an honor student at Super-Duper Driving School”? NO. I don’t need that. (Nobody needs that!) But, maybe even unschoolers can enjoy a little traditional stroking sometimes.

Most of the time, however, here’s what we’ve got:

  • kids who “do good” based on a real desire to know or do something—not based on a desire to meet some arbitrary, “fake” goal.
  • kids who don’t know what an “A” is, and therefore, won’t have the memories of “A’s” that I have—that  give me pleasure in feeling like June Cleaver.
  • kids who aren’t “honor students” at any institution, but are honorable people in the real world.
  • kids who see tests as gateways, not as make-it-or-break-it ultimatums.
  • kids who don’t jump to bells, get their square heads shoved into round holes, or have to wake up when they need more sleep.

If that’s all we’ve got, I can most definitely live with it. And, Stephanie, congratulations on your achievement, honey. You worked hard, and you mastered an important skill. And if our insurance company won’t give you a discount for academic performance because we don’t have a school transcript to show them, I can live with that, too. The trade-off is worth the cost.


12 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Cristina said,

    Congratulations! That is an awesome achievement and you have every right to feel pride!
    I love your list of real accomplishments too, especially the first one. That is very important to me. If only individual goals were as important as grades in school, we might see more achievement and less apathy about learning.

    Peace and Laughter!

  2. 3

    Laura Weldon said,

    “This is all we’ve got” is really a way of affirming the honor of small joys. It’s a good phrase. I’ll be thinking about it.

    Congrats to Stephanie (and her mom). The first tests my kids take are driver’s tests, then ACT tests. It’s a brand-new and shiny experience.

  3. 5

    Cynthia said,

    Congratulations and celebrate good times! I like the we don’t have students on an honor roll but her are honorable people. Yes so much more important. (not to say that those on the honor roll AreN”T honorable people … just recognizing and celebrating the goodness in my children!)

    • 6

      sgaissert said,

      Thank you, Cynthia. As you wrote, “not to say that those on the honor roll . . .” It’s hard to write about unschooling and not feel that I’m offending my dear friends whose children went to school or are in school. I never mean to do that, of course. As you wrote, I’m just “recognizing and celebrating ” our experience, which sometimes involves noticing that it’s different from theirs.

      I hope you’ll submit a post to the Carnival of Unschooled Life some time.

  4. 7

    Congratulations as well! The story was inspiring!

    Read Aloud Dad

    • 8

      sgaissert said,

      Thank you! I’m glad to have found your blog. Reading to your kids is the best pastime in the world, isn’t it?

      • 9


        Yes, reading aloud is the best pastime as you said. I indeed love it!

        Reading aloud with my 3 year old twins now means that we have a joint set of imaginary friends, a fantastic set of references, new joint associations, a common language.

        Indeed, my relationship with my twins has been reinforced dramatically. I love that.

        Read Aloud Dad

      • 10

        sgaissert said,

        Beautifully put! Thank you so much! : )

  5. 11

    Jessica said,

    Yay!! Such a sense of accomplishment – on both parts. Also: all kids seem to approach life slightly differently, even if they’re brought up in the same home. Just my opinion…

    • 12

      sgaissert said,

      Thanks, Jessica! Nice to hear from you. And I agree about the different ways of approaching life. It’s so sad to me that school seems to have increasing embraced only one way. Best wishes.

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